Nouns inflected for Obviation

Observation
ᓂᐙᐱᐦᑖᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐ᙮ Click here to hear this word niwaapihtaan ashtutin. I see a hat.
ᐙᐱᐦᑎᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔨᐤ᙮ Click here to hear this word waapihtim ashtutiniyiu. She sees a hat.

Notice the suffix -iyiu on ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔨᐤ ashtutiniyiu. It is called OBVIATIVE. Obviative inflection happens when there are several third persons in a story. For example, a child and a hat or a frog.

ᒌ ᐧᐋᐱᒫᐤ ᐄᔨᒃᐦ ᐊᓐ ᐊᐧᐋᔑᔥ᙮ Click here to hear this word chii waapimaau iiyikh an awaashish. This child saw a frog/frogs.
ᐧᐋᐱᐦᑎᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔨᐤ ᐊᓐ ᐊᐧᐋᔑᔥ᙮ Click here to hear this word waapihtim ashtutiniyiu an awaashish. This child sees a hat.

The form ᐊᐧᐋᔑᔥ awaashish is called PROXIMATE, ᐄᔨᒃᐦ iiyikh and ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔨᐤ ashtutiniyiu are called OBVIATIVE.

For animate nouns, the obviative suffix is -h, like in ᐄᔨᒃᐦ iiyikh above. The number distinction is over-ridden. -h could mean one or many frogs.

For inanimate nouns, the obviative singular has a special suffix -iyiu. The obviative plural looks just like the proximate plural.

Animate Noun

proximate obviative
singular ᐄᔨᒃ Click here to hear this word iiyik ᐄᔨᒃᐦ Click here to hear this word iiyikh frog
plural ᐄᔨᑭᒡ Click here to hear this word iiyikich ᐄᔨᒃᐦ Click here to hear this word iiyikh frogs

Inanimate Noun

proximate obviative
singular ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐ Click here to hear this word ashtutin ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔨᐤ Click here to hear this word ashtutiniyiu hat
plural ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word ashtutinh ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word ashtutinh hats

Because of the rule of obviation, a noun possessed by a third person carries the obviative marking.

ᐅᑖᐱᔥᑳᑭᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word utaapishkaakinh his/her scarf
ᐅᓂᒫᓯᒻᐦ Click here to hear this word unimaasimh his/her fish

Obviation plays an important role in Cree, not just for nouns, and pronouns but also for verbs forms. It allows speakers to rank the importance of participants in a story in ways that are impossible to convey in English. The rule is that you can only have one proximate person or thing at a time in a story, all others must be marked obviative.

The proximate-obviative contrast works like a spotlight on the story participants. The spotlight is the proximate and it can only shine on one person or one group at a time, all the other story participants end up in the obviative. [see story analysis]

This is how the proximate and obviative look in sentences.

Proximate Obviative
singular plural singular plural
Animate Click here to hear this word ᓂᐙᐱᒫᐤ ᐄᔨᒃ᙮ Click here to hear this word ᓂᐙᐱᒫᐎᒡ ᐄᔨᑭᒡ᙮ Click here to hear this word ᐙᐱᒫᐤ ᐄᔨᒃᐦ᙮ Click here to hear this word ᐙᐱᒫᐤ ᐄᔨᒃᐦ᙮
niwaapimaau iiyik. niwaapimaawich iiyikich. waapimaau iiyikh. waapimaau iiyikh.
I see a frog. I see frogs. She sees a frog. She sees frogs.
Inanimate Click here to hear this word ᓂᐙᐱᐦᑖᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐ᙮ Click here to hear this word ᓂᐙᐱᐦᑖᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ᙮ Click here to hear this word ᐙᐱᐦᑎᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔨᐤ᙮ Click here to hear this word ᐙᐱᐦᑎᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ᙮
niwaapihtaan ashtutin. niwaapihtaan ashtutinh. waapihtim ashtutiniyiu. waapihtim ashtutinh.
I see a hat. I see hats. She sees a hat. She sees hats.
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